2014 in review: The Blog Edition

2014 has been busy–here are some stats from the blog this year. Writing has been one of my great joys this year–thanks for reading, friends!

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 42,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 16 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Allison’s Favorite Things

Last week I went to a “favorite things” gift exchange. It was brilliant. Everyone brought a wrapped gift–one of their favorite things–then we exchanged them “white elephant” style so everyone could see and experience some new favorites together. The only problem with this little game was that I struggled for weeks to narrow down just one favorite thing to wrap up and bring to the party. There are so many products and services that I love–so many things that I could write a whole blog post about them.

So, because I know you’ve all been dying to know, here are a few front-runners for the 2014 edition of: Allison’s Favorite Things.

Flat ShotsOrla Kiely
I fell in love with Orla Kiely last year when we were living in Ireland, where everyone who was anyone sported her styles like they were…um…going out of style.  Orla Kiely is an Irish contemporary designer with the boldest, most beautiful prints you’ve ever seen. She designs all sorts of home and fashion accessories: purses, wallets, dishes, blankets, gardening tools, notebooks, clothing. Unfortunately, it usually costs you an arm and a leg to get into the world of Orla Kiely. That is, until TARGET stepped in (I should write a whole post on how much I love Target. Maybe next time.). That’s right, Target now sells Orla Kiely, and for a piddly fraction of the cost. Peruse the selection here or in store, but just make sure you have a hanky handy to wipe your drool off the floor.

sandalsRainbow Sandals
I know that I’m a bit late to the game here, but I’m new to this whole California-living thing. Rainbow sandals are the best–they’re made with real leather and, for a flip-flop, are incredibly supportive. From what I hear, they also last forever. And, now that I can actually wear flip-flops year-round, I’m getting a ton of use out of them.

 

Herbs_de_Provence_1024x1024Herbes de Provence
Really? An herb on your favorite things list? Yes, and don’t knock it til you try it. A friend introduced me to this stuff and now I put it in just about everything I cook: roasted veggies, marinades, mashed potatoes. I just hope my family loves it as much as I do! And, for the love, if you ever have to buy herbs/seasonings/pantry staples of any kind, please visit the bulk foods section at WinCo. You’ll thank me later.

amazonprime

Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime has changed my life. Seriously. I am yet to find a single product in this whole vast world that I can not order on Amazon–and, with Prime, I get it all shipped in two days to my door. For FREE. Now, you do have to pay upfront for your Prime membership ($99 for a year), but it the benefits far outweigh the costs (plus, you can always do a free trial of Prime for up to 6 months depending on when you sign up). We get items shipped to our house via Prime almost every day–everything from diapers to clothing, to pantry staples, to our new BBQ (the same item shipped to our house from Home Depot was going to have a $50 shipping fee added on). Not having to leave my house to do my shopping is reason enough for me to order Prime. But wait! There’s more! In addition to free shipping, Prime Members enjoy a number of benefits: online access to Instant Video (similar to Netflix, but with much less selection), Prime Music (similar to iTunes Radio), Prime Photos (free unlimited photo storage online), and access to the Kindle Users’ Lending Library. I could go on and on about the amazingness that is Amazon Prime, but I’ll try to restrain myself. If you don’t already have Prime, sign up here. Now.

Airbnb-2AirBnB
2014 was the year of travel for our family, and it was all made possible by AirBnB. Traveling with two young children can be challenging, and finding the right lodging made all the difference for us. AirBnB.com allows you to rent a space directly from the owner, so you can find many more options for temporary or travel housing than your standard hotel: a single room in a house, a bed and breakfast, a full apartment, an entire house or even something more eclectic (think windmills in Holland and houseboats in Seattle). And, since you’re renting directly from the owner, the prices are usually very reasonable. When we were in London, for instance, we had a 3-bedroom apartment with our own kitchen and laundry facilities, a few blocks from the tube, for half the price of the cheapest hotel room I could find in the same area. I heart AirBnB ❤

nivea lip balmNivea Lip Balm
My sister in law got me hooked on this stuff a couple of years ago, and I just can’t stop. This is, hands down, the best lip balm I’ve ever used. My lips have never been smoother or balm-ier. Thank you, Nivea. Some of the balms come tinted, too, thus eliminating my need for extensive lip-makeup routines (let’s be honest here: If I manage to swipe some tinted lip balm on in the morning, I call it “putting on my make up”). Find your new favorite balm at any drug store or online here.

61yhxs1BiUL._SL1500_Double Walled Starbucks Cold Cup
If you have seen me in the last few months, then you’ve probably seen me holding this: a reusable double-walled Venti Starbucks cold cup (the name of the cup is just about as complicated as the names of their drinks).
I love this cup for the following reasons:

1. It’s big. I drink lots of water and I don’t want to be running to the faucet every two seconds to refill an insufficient cup.
2. It has a straw. I drink far more liquids when I am drinking through a straw and, since we’re all supposed to drink more water, this just makes sense. Plus it wouldn’t mess up my lipstick…if I ever wore lipstick.
3.My hands never get cold when I’m holding it. Since it’s double-walled, the cold stays inside the first wall and my hands only touch the insulated outer wall. Bring on the ice!
4. It doesn’t “sweat”. Again, since the cup is double-walled, you don’t get any condensation on the outside of the cup. And, since I hate using coasters, this is a hand feature.
5. It fits in the cup holders in my car and stroller (my favorite water bottle does NOT. Boo.)

Buy your own fancy cup at the ‘Bucks or online here.

PumpkinCupcakes
Alright, so my obsession with cupcakes is not new to 2014.  What has changed, though, is my close proximity to some of the best cupcake shops in the world. Within minutes I can be at no less than a dozen cupcake bakeries that have been featured on Food Network or the pages of foodie magazines. If you ever find yourself in the Bay Area, check out some of my (new) favorites: Kara’s Cupcakes, Sprinkles, Icing on The Cake, Frost Cupcake Factory, and Minicakes.

61N-ivATQYL._SY355_UnderArmour Gold Gear Jacket
This is the most versatile jacket I’ve ever owned and I wear it almost every day. It’s warm, but not too warm. It keeps the wind and rain (at least, California “rain”) off you. It’s the perfect weight for wearing pre- or post-workout…or just lounging around the house…or running the kiddie carpool. It has tons of zippered pockets so you don’t lose your keys or your phone or your mind. As an added bonus mine is neon pink, so I’m sure to always stand out in a crowd! Get yours here.

 

29823-spicy-chai-mixTrader Joe’s Chai Tea Powder
I’m not a coffee drinker, so I have to get my fix from other sources. And, as we’ve already established with my cupcake entry here, I have quite the sweet tooth. Chai tea is my favorite sweet, warm beverage to cozy up with on a cold winter’s night. As a chai tea connoisseur, I have sampled many different varieties. TJ’s powdered mix is my new favorite and it comes in a variety of enticing seasonal flavors (try the pumpkin spice chai in the fall and salted caramel in the winter). At less than $5 per container, the price point is also pretty sweet. Find yours in the Trader Joe’s beverage aisle next to the coffee.

article-1250992-083E2A01000005DC-544_468x324Sleep
For the first time in half a decade I have two children who consistently sleep through the night–which means I am back to a regular schedule of sleeping (in my own bed, until a humanly-sane hour in the morning). It’s pure bliss, and I can not recommend it enough. Find your own good night of sleep with a weekend getaway or having older children who literally run around ALL day to the point of pure exhaustion. And, if you are lucky enough to find sleep, it’s priceless.

So, there you have it! Some oldies, some newbies and, always, some goodies. Hope you enjoyed a little peek into some of my favorite things. What’s going on your “favorite things” list this year?

 

Why Jesus Is The Better Santa

santa

Childhood is such a magical stage of life, and Christmas has to be the most magical time in childhood. For a few short weeks every year the whole world transforms in anticipation for the most magical of all days: Christmas. Of course I loved Christmas when I was growing up, but nothing compares to seeing Christmas anew through my childrens’ eyes. The wonder, the excitement, the joy– everything is magnified with young children, and I can’t get enough of it.

I have to confess: when I think of the “magic of Christmas”, though, one of the first images that pops into my mind is of a jolly old man in a red suit with eight flying reindeer. I mean, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Santa.

Or would it?

Five years ago when we celebrated our first Christmas with our first baby, Jon and I had several discussions about what to do about Santa. We wanted to keep the Christmas-focus on Jesus–and all of the hype around Santa kind of gets in the way of that.

After much thought and prayer, we ultimately decided to put Santa on the back-burner (this article does a great job expressing our thoughts on this subject). We still have fun with Santa– we tell our kids about the real St. Nicholas who loved Jesus and served the poor in His name, we read books and sing songs featuring Santa, and we get our annual photo with the big guy–but we just don’t make him the center of our celebrations. Santa doesn’t visit our house on Christmas Eve, and there’s no man at the North Pole putting our kids on the nice or naughty list.  We acknowledge Santa without prioritizing him.

What it all boiled down to is that we didn’t want Santa to compete with Jesus for a place in our boys’ hearts or minds. And why should he? Everything that Santa “can” do, Jesus CAN do better.

In fact, if you think about it, Jesus really is the better “Santa”.

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa brings gifts once a year, but Jesus gives us the free gift of eternal salvation.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa brings fleeting happiness, but Jesus brings forever-joy.
“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa condemns those who are naughty, but Jesus redeems our sin.
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa comes just for kids, but Jesus came for all people.
“For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” Galatians 3:26

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa wears a tacky red suit, but Jesus is clothed in righteousness.
“He put on righteousness like a breastplate, And a helmet of salvation on His head; And He put on garments of vengeance for clothing And wrapped Himself with zeal as a mantle.” Isaiah 59:17

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa brings coal for those who are naughty, but Christ brings forgiveness for all who sin.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa only comes once a year, but Jesus never leaves us.
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” 1 Corinthians 3:16

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa tries to complete our wish list once a year, but Jesus answers every request we bring to Him.
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:7

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa lives in the North Pole, but Jesus lives in Heaven.
“But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” Luke 22:69

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa keeps a list of “naughty or nice”, but Jesus composes the Book of Life.
“The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” Revelation 13:8

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa brings gifts that offer temporary pleasure, but Jesus brings the timeless gift of grace.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8

Jesus is the better Santa because your belief in Santa ends in disappointment, but your faith in Jesus ends in fulfillment.
“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:8-9

I am so grateful that God didn’t just send us any old gift at Christmas, he sent us the best gift–the perfect gift. The only gift that is guaranteed to never disappoint or break or fade with time. God became man to show his great love for all people–naughty or nice; today, tomorrow and forever.

This Christmas, may you experience the great joy that comes from this love! Merry Christmas!